I’ll admit to feeling lost. Katrina, Ferguson, the crisis in Ukraine–in times of war, disaster, and social conflict, stories unfold over months and even years. And as soon as you skip a chapter of the news cycle, you have a hard time finding your place again.
Coda is an upcoming news platform that’s designed specifically to track long-term crises. Designed by a team of journalists (hailing from places like the BBC and the New York Times) and San Francisco design firm Method, it’s being built, not like a CNN that publishes news on every story happening in the world, but as a site that publishes deep dives on just a few conflicts in the world.
So instead of digging through a deluge of cross-topic headlines, when you arrive at Coda, you’ll come to a specific page, like the Ukraine conflict. That page has all of the stories Coda journalists have written and filmed on the topic. They’re organized with splash graphics on top of the page, but more importantly, they’re broken down in a series of timelines–what the team calls the main UI feature of the site.
“Stories sit on a timeline, but what is important is that they are organized by themes, which become currents,” explain Melissa Clark, client services lead at Method and Ilan Greenberg, co-founder at Coda, in an email interview. “It’s great because it allows us to follow events both thematically and chronologically, and to track trends rather than just events.”
In Ukraine, the team has set up currents for “history’s shadow,” “Russia’s leverage,” “fragmentation,” and “violence.” It’s a smart treatment for the news. A single timeline would have to mix breaking news items with think pieces and historical explanations. Through currents, Coda can editorialize history as it happens, without presenting a timeline that’s as bloated and as confusing as the news cycle itself. Coda also hopes that this mixed timeline view can help guide a reader through connections in the overarching storyline. So as one article is finished, Coda can leverage the streams to queue up and contextualize the next one for a reader to delve into.
Coda is a bold departure from the way we think of news, but it’s impossible to look at trends in the publishing industry and not raise two concerns. First, how will they fund this thing (where will the ads go?). Coda isn’t modeled like BuzzFeed or Vox, built upon venture capital and an endless stream of Facebook-friendly clickbait quizzes and explainers that drive today’s viral traffic. So Coda will likely never generate the sort of pageviews that can drive serious ad buys. On top of that, almost 50% of web traffic is mobile. Coda, in its current incarnation, relies upon a large screen with a big landscape monitor.
To address the revenue problem, Coda is relying on a mix of philanthropic grants and licensing fees. That’s right, the plan is to offer Coda as a platform for others to tell stories–a decision that may or may not raise quality control issues, depending how open the platform becomes. As for mobile, and how Coda’s timeline streams will squeeze onto a cellphone screen, the team is developing that experience right now.
“We started to ideate around what it could be: A user could only access the currents part of the site, or they could follow a particular current,” Clark and Greenberg write, recognizing the challenge ahead. “We need to carefully craft the mobile experience so it’s in line with the editorial vision and is suitable for a long-form journalism experience.”